Manuscript Format Template (free download)

 MS-format

Have you read my posts on Formatting your Novel Manuscript? If not, read part one here and part two here.

I surveyed forty literary agents in October of 2014 to ask them which font they preferred for submitted manuscripts. The clear winner was Times New Roman. Many agents read pages on e-readers or mobile devices, and TNR is a web-safe, system-installed, serif.  Using TNR allows them to read pages without changing formatting first, but it is also an easy font to change.

Download the MS Format TEMPLATE.

Right-click the link above and “save as.” I saved it as a Word Document, even though I personally use Pages, so if there are any issues, please report them to me! Our PC isn’t working, and I don’t have Word on my Macbook Pro.

This template uses paragraph styles, which you can import into any preexisting document. Otherwise save a copy of MS Format TEMPLATE, rename it, and begin typing or pasting your manuscript.

Read through all of the instructions on the template, and save it as-is to keep as a reference. Do not type into the original TEMPLATE—type in a duplicate or copy file.

Copyright Notice:

This template was created by me for personal or educational use only. You may share it with others—simply give them this link or share the link on social media using the buttons below. You may not pass this template off as your own or charge anyone to use it. You may not upload the template to any website or blog.

Of course, you have full ownership of your own manuscript, whether you use my template or paragraph styles to format it.

Hard-Core Manuscript Formatting

Or, Making your Typesetter Love You.

This is Part Two on my series of MS Formatting. For the basics of MS formatting, read Part One here. Get a template here in Part Three.

Remove all double spaces.

First, find and replace all double spaces with single spaces. Each period should be followed by ONE, not two, spaces.

Then do the exact same find and replace (just hit the “Replace all” button again) in case you had any rogue triple spaces lurking around.

Be consistent with your punctuation

These are the steps I go through to make sure all the punctuation is consistent. You really only have to do all of the following if you’re a typesetter, are perfectionist or anal retentive, or are trying to woo your publisher’s typesetter.

Publishers have their own style guides, but at least in terms of punctuation, it looks like American Publishers model their styles after the Chicago Manual of Style.

I recommend using the “Easiest Options” below while drafting your manuscript, and then doing a find/replace while revising and rewriting.

Ellipses (…)

  • Easiest option: three periods without spaces (d…b)*
  • Word’s auto-formatting: an ellipsis special character (d…b)*
  • AP style: three periods with a space before and after (d … b)
  • The Chicago Manual of Style‘s preferred option: three periods with five spaces (d . . . b)

*If you do either of these options, get in the habit
of typing a space before and after (
d … b).

The problem with CMOS’s favorite is that those internal spaces need to be non-breaking spaces, otherwise if the ellipsis falls at the end of the line, it might look like this .
. .

. . . which is really horrible typography. If you’re typesetting an actual book, do not use the ellipsis special character. Use periods with non-breaking spaces. (In Word: [Option][Space], on PC: [Ctrl][Shift][Spacebar], in Adobe: [Command][Option][X] for Mac or [Ctrl][Alt][X] for PC).

If you’re submitting a manuscript, it doesn’t really matter what you do (three periods, three spaced periods, or the ellipsis special character) as long as you are consistent and use a space before and after the ellipses.

However . . . when ellipses are used with quotation marks, you delete the space between the ellipsis and the quotation mark:

“Trailing off . . .” not “Trailing off . . . “

“. . . continuing.” not ” . . . continuing.”

Again, whatever method you use for ellipses, be sure you are consistent. Even if you use the auto-formatting that switches periods to the ellipsis special character, some triple-periods might still be hiding somewhere.

Em-dashes

I have a Quick and Easy Guide to Dashes if you need a primer on the differences between hyphens, em-dashes, and en-dashes and when to use them. Note that in monospaced typefaces like Courier, all dashes have the same width. An em-dash will be indistinguishable from a hyphen. I recommend using two hyphens if you will be editing or revising in Courier.

  • Easiest option: two hyphens without spaces (d–b)
  • Word’s (inconsistent) auto-formatting: an actual em-dash, with no spaces (d—b)
  • AP style: an em-dash surrounded by spaces (d — b)
  • Poorly advised attempt at making AP style prettier: an en-dash surrounded by spaces (d – b)
  • The Chicago Manual of Style’s preferred option: either two hyphens or one em-dash, no spaces. Be consistent!

Changing inch marks ″ to smart quotes “”

Say you use an online program (or app) for drafting, but you revise in a desktop program like Word. Sometimes switching between text editors really screws with your paragraph breaks and quotation marks. Quotation marks should be curved, like micro sixes and nines (“”, zoomed in: 66 99) not straight lines, which are actually inch marks (″, zoomed in: ||  ||).

If you’ve only used one word processor for the duration of your draft, your quotation marks should be consistent. You can turn on auto-format by following these instructions.

If you already have all the quotation marks typed, find/replace all automatically by typing ” into both the find and replace boxes and selecting “Use wild cards” before hitting “replace all.” Some might format awkwardly, so be sure to have a proofreader look for wacky smart quotes or replace each one at a time.

Repeat for foot marks ‘ and prime ′ to turn them into apostrophes ’ or single quotes ‛ and ’

If you cannot fix the quotation marks automatically, then you’ll have to do several Find/Replace searches. But first you need to search for all soft returns / line breaks / carriage returns (see below) in your document and replace them with paragraph breaks.

Once you are sure all of your paragraph breaks are consistent, follow the F/R searches below to manually fix all of your quotation marks:

  1. Find: [space][“] Replace: [space][left curly quote “]
  2. Find: [paragraph break*][“] Replace: [paragraph break][right curly quote ”]
  3. Find: [“][paragraph break] Replace: [left curly quote “][paragraph break]
  4. Find: [“][space] Replace: [right curly quote”][space]

Repeat for double prime ″ and foot marks ‘ and prime ′

*see below for codes

Awkward invisibles

Sometimes if we use different word processing programs while typing, the programs will use a line break instead of a paragraph break. Line breaks are also called carriage returns or soft returns.

For consistency, change them all to a paragraph breaks.

In Word, here are the codes you’d enter into the find/replace boxes:

  • Find line breaks: ^l or ^11
  • Replace with a paragraph break: ^p

In Open Office, the code for a paragraph break is [/n]. In Pages, select the invisibles from the drop down menu.

 

MS-format

Formatting your Novel Manuscript

How do I format a manuscript? | Novel Formatting from Editor Lara Willard

Contents

Choosing a Font
Emailing Requested Pages
Formatting your Manuscript
Keeping Punctuation Consistent
Receiving an Offer of Representation

Choosing a Font

The choice of font for your manuscript is one that’s been made for you. You need to use 12 pt. Times New Roman, double-spaced.

The size 12 font and double spacing is non-negotiable. The typeface is. Still, after asking dozens of literary agents about their preferences, I urge you to choose Times New Roman.

Why TNR?

Personally, as a typesetter, reader, and graphic designer, I loathe Times New Roman. But here’s why you should use Times New Roman for standard manuscript formatting:

  1. I polled 20 agents, and all of them accept TNR. Not so with other fonts.
  2. It’s standard. It’s been the standard since TNR was the default typeface installed on home computers.
  3. It’s a serif font. Publishers prefer serif fonts, and that preference has carried over to literary agents. It’s what we associate with books.
  4. It’s available on any device or browser. There are only two serif typefaces available on any browser or device: Times New Roman and Georgia. If you use any other font, there’s a definite chance that your recipient’s device won’t have the font and will switch it to TNR. You might think “Well, that’s fine. It switches for them.” But every time I get a manuscript in Cambria (the current default typeface for Word), I get a little pop-up that says “An Error Occurred” that I have to acknowledge and close. Yes, most agents will have Cambria on their computers, but Mac users might not, and it’s still not considered a web-safe font.
  5. TNR is very easy to read or change on e-reading devices. Many agents now read requested partials and fulls on Kindles or tablets. Times New Roman is easily changed into the typeface and size of their preference.

Courier has been a standard since the days of snail-mail manuscript mailing because, as a monospaced font, it yields approximately the same number of words per page. It has serifs (though it’s technically a slab serif), and it’s available on any device or browser. I prefer Courier while editing because it gives the most white space. My eyes are used to it, and it feels natural. I also know that I’m in “editing mode” whenever I’m reading Courier. However, some agents passionately hate Courier. They aren’t going to reject you because of your font, but they will switch it to something else, likely Times. Courier is also not easy to read on e-readers.

Bottom line:

Write in whatever font you darn well please. You could type in Webdings if it will help you from revising while getting out your first draft. Revise in something legible: a serif, a monospaced slab (like Courier), even a sans-serif (like Arial). Before you submit to agents, revise one last time in a typeface from a different family—you’ll be surprised how many things you catch when the words aren’t always in the same position on the page! Submit to agents using 12 pt TNR, double-spaced, unless they’ve stated differently in their agency guidelines.

Pasting Pages in the Body of the Email

Word uses a bunch of formatting that doesn’t always translate to web use, like italics, non-breaking spaces, space after paragraphs, double-spaced lines, and centered text. It’s always a good idea to strip the formatting for blog posts or emails, either by putting it into a text-only program like Notepad or TextEdit or by choosing “use destination formatting” while pasting. I hold down shift while pasting: shift+control+V

My pages will have a consistent look with my query letter, rather than be in a different font or format. Then I make sure there are spaces between my paragraphs, so it doesn’t look like one huge blob of text.

I’ve received pasted pages that weren’t stripped of formatting. Sometimes the spaces between words are gone. Sometimes the text is in one single horizontal line that scrolls on to the right, forever. Sometimes the query is gigantic or microscopic in comparison to the pages. Make it easy on the agent to read your pages. Don’t give him or her an easy way to say no.

Emailing Requested Pages

Subject Line

If you are emailing requested pages to an agent—that is, an agent asked you to send him or her pages after you queried—your subject line should be obvious that you are replying with requested materials.

A subject of Partial Request: BOOK TITLE Age Category Genre is a good starting point.

I’d reply to the email that they sent. An agent might mark your initial query email as important, reply directly to that (re: Query: CYCLES MG Fantasy) with a request for pages, and then if you reply to their email (re: Query: CYCLES MG Fantasy), your new email, because it’s part of the same thread, will also be marked as important.

However, if you’re replying to something they rejected, then your reply will also be marked as rejected. Resist the urge to send a “thank you” or “what about this other manuscript?” reply. If rejected, you can query with another manuscript in 6+ months. If you got a revise and resubmit, resubmit in 6+ weeks.

Content

Be professional, polite, and concise.

Dear Mr. Agent,

I am delighted to send you these pages you requested. Below I have included my initial query letter.

I look forward to hearing back from you.

Sincerely,

Your Name

[Initial query letter—the same one sent to this specific agent—pasted without formatting]

Make sure you are following agency guidelines. Don’t attach pages if they want them pasted in the body of the email. If they request your query or a synopsis as separate files, follow their instructions!

Naming your Document

When sending a partial or full request to an agent, name your document Surname_TITLE_Partial or Surname_TITLE_Full (including the .doc extension). That way, if an agent saves your document to her computer or e-reader, she will immediately know 1) what and whose it is before she opens it, 2) the query that got her interested, and 3) where to send her response if she lost your initial e-mail.

Formatting your Manuscript

Start out with 1-inch margins all around and left (not justified) alignment.

Page i—The Query Letter

Paragraph Style: “Title Page”—12 pt TNR, single-spaced, no indent

Because many agents read requested pages on e-readers, they may have forgotten your query when they start reading your pages. I recommend including your query in the body of the email (see above) as well as before the title page of your requested pages.

Use 12 pt. Times New Roman, single-spaced with an extra space between paragraphs (like your email query). Make sure you are sending the same query you sent the agent originally. Don’t send a partial to Ms. Sally Agent with a query to Mr. Hans Agent, listing the specific reasons why you want him as your agent!

Then insert a page break.

How to Format your Novel Manuscript and Query Letter

Page ii—The Title Page

This page should be in the same paragraph style, with no headers.

1. Include your contact information, especially your email and a reliable phone number. Agents offer representation over the phone! But they will email you to let you know if they’d like to call you, so you can schedule a time.

2. After you type your name, add a tab stop with a right alignment to your ruler on the right margin. Then enter your word count, rounded to the nearest 1,000. If text keeps dropping to the next line, make the tab option a decimal alignment.

3. Halfway down the page, include your title in all-caps. Keep it in 12 pt. font, and do not bold, italicize, or underline it.

4. Two lines down (or one line, if you double-space this part), include your name as you’d like it to appear on your cover. Note that if your legal name is Steven King, you will probably need a pseudonym to avoid confusion with the famous SK.

Then insert a section break.

How to Format your Novel Manuscript and Query Letter

Your Manuscript

Page one of your manuscript and following pages will have the same formatting.

Be sure to include your header in the header section, not in the body of the page.

5. Headers should include your surname (whichever surname you have been using in your correspondence with the agent), an abbreviation of your title (if it’s longer than 3 words), and the page number (insert the page number). The page number will automatically show as 2 or 3. In your section settings, change the page numbering to start at 1. Learn how for Word. In Pages, in your inspector window, chose Layout > Section > Start at 1.

I prefer headers to be aligned on the right side so my eyes don’t have to skip over them every time I scroll down or flip to the next page.

Paragraph Style: “Header”—10 or 12 pt. TNR, right aligned

How to Format your Novel Manuscript and Query Letter

6. Manually hit “return” 4–6 times to start your chapter one-quarter to one-third down the page.

Paragraph Style: “Chapter Title”—12 pt. TNR, center alignment, all-caps, no indent, following paragraph style: “Chapter Subtitle” (if using), otherwise “Body No Indent”

7. If you have a chapter subtitle, put it on the next line down.

Paragraph Style: “Chapter Subtitle”—12 pt. TNR, center alignment, Title Capitalization, no indent, following paragraph style: “Body No Indent” 

8. Manually hit return 2 times before beginning your first paragraph. Do not include drop-caps or decorative initials.

Paragraph Style: “Body No Indent”—12 pt. TNR, left alignment, no indent, following paragraph style: Body (default)

9. Each subsequent paragraph should have a half-inch first line indent using the ruler, not a tab key. Highlight this indented paragraph, right-click on the default “Body” paragraph style, and select “Redefine style from selection.” Note that if anything else had been set as Body before now, its style will change.

Paragraph Style: “Body” (default)—12 pt. TNR, left alignment, 0.5″  indent

Use the indent formatting set to 0.5″. DO NOT USE THE TAB KEY or type five sentences to indent your first line. If you have done this, set your paragraphs to indent automatically. Then find/replace all tabs by typing “^t” into “find” and leaving “replace” blank. You’ll do the same with double spaces after each sentence.

Unless you are typing on a manual typewriter, indents should come from formatting, not the tab key or the space bar.

Unless you are typing in a monospace or typewriter font like Courier, do not hit space twice after each sentence.

10. Separate scene changes with a hash (#) or three asterisks (***), centered, in either of the Chapter title/subtitle styles, whichever one has the following paragraph style set as “Body No Indent.”

11. (not pictured) For long quotes, excerpts, or letters: Indent one inch on both the left and the right side for long quotes. These can be single or double-spaced. Either way, they need an extra line break both above and below, to set them apart from the rest of the body. They can also be italicized. Personally, I’d italicize only if the text were a “letter” from one character to another.

Paragraph Style: “Long Quote”—12 pt. TNR, left alignment, right indent 0.5″, left indent 0.5”

Dear Reader,

This is a letter or lengthy handwritten note (longer than a few words). Indent 1/2 inch on both sides (I prefer 1 inch). Short handwritten notes can be formatted like signs, below.

Don’t put these in different fonts. Let your designer choose typefaces.

For signs or short handwritten notes: Include an extra line break before and after, and center the text without an indent.

FOR SALE: apples
Come ‘n get ’em!

For text, instant, or direct messages: Indent a half inch on both sides using the ruler settings. For a dialogue or back-and-forth messages, I like to right-justify the POV character and left-justify anyone else. How you designate the characters’ identities is up to you. Note: In verse novels, authors will often continue the main character’s voice on the left and other character’s words will be on the right.

Friend: Hey.

Me: Hi.

Here’s a long message that
we’ll add line breaks to so
it looks more like a text.

Yeah. I think my phone only
allows like 32 characters per
line or whatever. But 6ish words
is about right, too. Really you
can add line breaks wherever,
like poetry.

I created a new message here
by hitting “enter” like usual.
Enter line breaks by holding
shift while you press “return.”
You’re adding a line break, not
a new paragraph.

If you’re typesetting an actual
book and not submitting a MS,
then I still recommend right-
justifying single-line texts,
like the “Hi” above, but…

For longer text messages, left-
justify and indent 4 or 5 inches. That way you avoid awkward short lines on the right side of the page, like the “like poetry” above.

You don’t have to add line breaks if you indent this far, but you might want to just in case someone accidentally removes
all indents.

Otherwise your text messages will just look like normal text again. Pro tip: write the message and edit it before figuring out formatting, otherwise you’ll be spending too much time prematurely adding and removing line breaks.

Miscellaneous

DO NOT add two spaces after a period unless you’re submitting in a monospaced font like Courier (which you shouldn’t; see above)

DO NOT hit the return or enter key after each line of prose. On a computer, the words will wrap automatically. For poetry or verse, then yes, you can manually add line returns.

DO insert a page break after each chapter.

DO NOT use the “tab” key or type five sentences to indent paragraphs (see #9)

DO NOT add an extra space between paragraphs when double-spaced (see #9)

DO add an extra [vertical] space between paragraphs when single-spaced (e.g., the query email). Hit the return key twice.

DO NOT use bold or underlining for emphasis, unless typing in Courier. Only use italics, and use sparingly. If you paste into an email, check to make sure the italic formatting transferred over.

DO NOT include epigraphs, song lyrics, or poetry set apart before the first chapter. Agents want to read your words, not someone else’s. You can discuss epigraphs and the like when writing your dedication and acknowledgments. More info here.

Congratulations! As a reward for reading the miscellany, go here to download my free template for the MS standard format.

Keeping Punctuation Consistent

Inconsistent punctuation isn’t going to be a deal-breaker, but if you want to ensure that your punctuation is consistent (specifically your ellipses, dashes, and quotation marks), read Part 2: Hard-core Manuscript Formatting.

Receiving an Offer of Representation

Read “When an Agent Requests your Manuscript”  by Susan Dennard (now a NYT bestselling author!) at Let the Words Flow for advice on what to do when an agent offers you representation, especially if you still have pages being reviewed by other agents.

Did you find this information useful?

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My NaNoWriMo Writing Methods

Today: My Writing Space, Plot-driven Versus Character-driven Stories, Manuscript Format, and Shutting Up the Internal Editor.

So, yesterday was Day One of NaNoWriMo. I didn’t make it to 2,500 words because, well, I took a nap. And 1,788 lent itself to a good stopping point.

I thought it might be fun to share what my writing space looks like. Not the interior of my house, because I write all over the place. Also my desk is a mess.

You can tell already this will be a frenzied post, can’t you?

So here’s what the space looks like:

As you can see, I cover nearly every pixel of my screen. On the upper left is my beat sheet, written in Evernote.

On the lower left is a summary I wrote for the novel. It helps me to get the broader picture of what I think will happen.

A note about planning plots

Though I do plan plot (as you can tell from my series on plot), I also make sure that what I am writing is character-driven. THESE ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE. You can write character-driven stories and still have an idea of where you are going. There’s a difference between a plot-driven novel and a plot planned one.

Let’s say you are planning a road trip across country. You plan your route ahead of time, and you have a rough idea of where you are going. But your route takes you to a road with a closed bridge. If you adhered to the plan without faltering, you’d blast through the “ROAD CLOSED” barriers and traffic cones and gun it, hoping that your tiny sedan can make the jump and land on the other side. This is what happens when a story is plot driven. It might have a lot of excitement, but it usually doesn’t end well for everyone involved, and along the way, you’ll make somebody say, “What the heck just happened?” and not in a good way.

But, it you come up to that closed bridge and you take a detour, you change direction. Maybe you even change your destination, having an existential moment where the sun breaks through the clouds and you realize, It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. That’s the way a person writes something character-driven. It’s fluid and organic, not rigid and contrived.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a plan to begin with. In my opinion, you’ll have fewer projects that die by your hand if you make an effort to think towards a possible ending before you even start. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve written that didn’t work. My current novel has already been scrapped and started over a few times. Here’s to hoping I’m heading in the right direction this time, because I truly love these characters.

Related: Outlining for Pantsers

Back to my writing space

Here it is again.

In the middle is my manuscript. I really hate writing in Times New Roman, but I decided to format my novel in the standard Manuscript format from the get-go. Some people want you to use Courier, others Times New Roman. This is how you format your novel manuscript. Remember, though, to check and see if an editor or agent has specific requirements before submitting.

On the right, I have another document that is specifically for my internal editor. I don’t have success completely gagging my internal editor, whose name is Melvin and looks like George Costanza.

Some people have semi-sadist daydreams about their internal editor, and what it takes to shut him/her/it up. With an internal editor like mine, if you fill his mouth with cotton balls, he’ll just start humming “It’s a Small World, After All” until you let him go. So I’ve found it works best to throw him into a cellar and let him shout out a couple of things now and again through the air vents. That document is a collection of his nags and pointers. I’ve found it’s best to acknowledge the internal editor, but rather than make the fixes, write the problems down on a sort of “Honey-do” list I’ll address during rewrites. Then I can keep writing quickly.

My next post is already scheduled for Motivational Monday! Follow me on Twitter @LaraEdits for NaNoWriMo updates and even more tips.